Cebiche / Ceviche / Sebiche / Seviche

posted by Sebastian Moreno Henao

As a Latin American, cebiches are very familiar to me. There
are many varieties, from México to Chile, across Honduras, Guatemala, Ecuador,
Colombia, Peru, and many other places as well.

It is the same with its etymology. A
lot of theories have been proposed. One of them says it comes from a Spanish
word: “cebo” which
means “bait”, probably because
of its similarity to chopped fish. Another proposes it comes from the word “escabeche”, which itself comes from an
Arabic-Spanish word: “sukkabak” , a method to preserve meat in
vinegar. And a third suggests that it comes from a Quechua (indigenous language
from some South American tribes) word: “swichi” which means ‘fresh fish’
or ‘tender fish’. It is also due to these different etymology that one can find
so many variations in the spelling.

The
many forms of this traditional dish share one common trait, which is how acids
can transform the proteins in food without applying any source of heat, and in
a short period of time. We were interested in playing with this principle with
other techniques and ingredients we use, such as vinegars, kombucha, curing,
and infused oils.

 an early trial with rhubarb vinegar on different insects

an early trial with rhubarb vinegar on different insects

In cebiches,
everything is about pH. Proteins change because of acid – the introduction of
new hydrogen atoms disrupts the hydrogen bonding within and between amino acid
chains. Acids thus denature the proteins’ quaternary and tertiary structures
(the specific shapes that emerge as a result of hydrogen and other bonds),
leaving them in loose strands and allowing them to reconfigure in new ways.
This is the mechanism that transforms the texture of protein-rich food.

For
our acids, we used 4 different vinegars: strawberry, rhubarb, cucumber, and beer.
Additionally we made two novel acids by fusing chicha and kombucha. Chicha is a traditional Latin fermented beverage
from Central America and the northern part of South America made from corn; the
resulting chicha kombuchas were surprisingly nice.

 black corn to be turned into chicha

black corn to be turned into chicha

To go
with our different acids, we chose five different types of proteins: the
traditional fish and shellfish, always used in Latin cebiches; red meat, very
common, which we lightly cured to make it a bit more interesting; and two more rare
ingredients if we speak about cebiches: insects and legumes. So here they are,
the chosen ones: mackerel, razor clams, beef loin, green peas, and bee larvae.

We
also made some different oils and salts as seasonings, with products like lemon
thyme, lemon verbena, berries, and roasted koji (yes, koji – what a surprise!).

 an early version of the bee larvae ceviche

an early version of the bee larvae ceviche

The
results were very intriguing. Timing is one of the most important aspects of
this technique: the longer the protein is in contact with vinegar, the more
dramatic the change on its ‘cookedness’ will be – even within a range of a
couple minutes. We saw this happen in many ways.

First,
the most close to tradition. The razor clams were marinated in cucumber vinegar
for 7 minutes, together with some sugar kelp and søl and dressed with lemon
verbena oil and salt. The razor clam was excellent with a good firm texture, while
the seaweeds were gummy and didn’t add to the dish, so we removed them in later
versions.

The
mackerel was put into a strawberry vinegar also for 7 minutes, with cranberry
oil, lemon verbena leaves and mackerel skins.

The
meat, as I told you before, was cured – with salt and brown sugar, to balance
the tastes while still optimizing the drawing out of water from the flesh. We
used stronger seasonings for this one: beer vinegar (for about 10 minutes),
roasted koji oil and clove root. We didn’t need to put more salt because of the
cure.

The
peas we marinated in the chicha-kombucha for
24 hours and their colour, flavour and texture changed completely. We dressed
them with quince oil and some raw peas to make a contrast with other flavours.
But in the end, we decided to dress them simply to show the unique crisp yet
soft texture of the ‘cooked peas’ on their own.

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The
bee larvae gained a slightly firmer external layer through contact with the
vinegar, while retaining their creamy center, almost like a spherification; but
if we let them stay more than just 3 minutes in the vinegar, the layer became thicker
and thicker and the larvae became less creamy and nice to eat.

It was
interesting to see how the different types of protein responded to the
different acids, giving pretty diverse results from the same process. Overall,
a very versatile technique that we can use on different ingredients around the
world.

Plus, the mise en place was great. 

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Here’s
a recipe for our favourite.

Bee Larvae Cebiche

Bee
Larvae                                  15
g
Rhubarb
Vinegar                         100
ml
Lemon Thyme                              3
g
Freeze-dried
Lingonberries          5 g
Red
Oxalis Stems                         3
g
Søl
Salt                                         5
g

Pick lemon
thyme leaves and chop dried lingon-berries and oxalis stems very finely.
Pull
the bee larvae from the freezer and defrost for 3 minutes. Add them to the
vinegar and season with salt. Wait another 3 minutes.
Take the
bee larvae out from the vinegar and dress them with the other ingredients (stems,
lingon-berries and lemon thyme).
Enjoy
a delicious bee larvae cebiche!

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References 

“Diccionario Panhispánico de Dudas.  ” Real Academia Española . <http://lema.rae.es/>. 10.2005. 18.7.2013

Katz, Sandor E. The Art of Fermentation. USA: Chelsea Green, 2012.

Multiple. “Cebiche”. Wikipedia . <https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cebiche>. 7.7.2013.

Unknown. “Cuál es el origen de la palabra ‘Ceviche’?”. Planeta curioso . <http://www.planetacurioso.com/2007/07/20/cual-es-el-origen-de-la-palabra-ceviche/>. 20.7.2007. 7.7.2013.

annette1402. “Etimologia Del Ceviche”. Buenas tareas . <http://www.buenastareas.com/ensayos/Etimologia-Del-Ceviche/2545655.html>. 07.2011. 7.7.2013.